Proving Vehicular Homicide in Florida Requires Proving Intent
It’s difficult to imagine, but what if, when you were simply driving along the street, you suddenly blacked out? If you then spun out of control and, in a tragic turn of events, crashed into and killed another driver, could you be found guilty of vehicular homicide?
The Case of Stracar v. State
In the 2013 case of Stracar v. State, exactly this happened to Ms. Angela Stracar. She was driving at about 40 miles per hour down a divided street in West Palm Beach when, according to her own testimony, she suddenly and inexplicably “blacked out.” It was a warm, sunny day, and road conditions were normal. She then lost control of her car, traveled onto a sidewalk and grassy area, and crashed into a sign. The collision launched the car over the median and onto an intersecting street, where it flipped onto another car, crushing it and killing the two occupants inside. By some miracle, Ms. Stracar survived. She was rushed to the hospital after being removed from the wreckage through the car’s roof. Her blood was tested for intoxicants, which revealed a very low blood alcohol content (.02%), trace amounts of THC from some time in the distant past, a small amount of Oxycodone (consistent with medical use), and Xanax, an antidepressant for which Ms. Stracar had a prescription.
At trial, Ms. Stracar was convicted by a jury of two counts of vehicular homicide (one for each person she killed) and sentenced to two consecutive 10-year terms in prison (20 years total). Her lawyer, however, wisely filed a motion for entry of judgment notwithstanding the verdict—meaning that the judge overrides the jury’s decision—on the grounds that the evidence was legally insufficient to prove his client’s guilt. Filing this motion was a smart move because, although the trial judge denied it, it would ultimately provide the basis on which the Florida Court of Appeals would overturn her conviction.
In reviewing the evidence in Ms. Stracar’s case, the Court of Appeals found that there wasn’t adequate proof that she had acted with the legally required intent. It did not accept the trial judge’s rationale that the bizarre circumstances of the accident (and Ms. Stracar’s strange report of having simply “blacked out”) were themselves proof of her malicious intent. The Court repeated the time-honored legal doctrine that proof of intent in vehicular homicide cases “requires proof of a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” The question, the court said, was not whether the accident was so strange as to seem to require recklessness as an explanation; rather, the question was whether Ms. Stracar had acted knowingly. There was no proof that she had, so her conviction couldn’t stand.
Sage Counsel Makes a Difference
In a traumatic and horrible situation like this one, having wise and experienced counsel familiar with the state’s burden to prove intent made the difference between zero and 20 years in jail. If you find yourself facing charges of vehicular homicide, contact Fort Lauderdale attorney Kevin J. Kulik, P.A. today.